Guidelines for Conducting Research in the Ecovillage

The ecovillage recognises the importance of facilitating quality academic research into the project as it advances, as a contribution to both documenting its development and to harvesting the lessons to be learnt. The Village Education, Research and Training (VERT) group therefore offers advice and support to researchers, as a contribution to ensuring fruitful engagement with the project and its members, and valuable outcomes to the research. In some cases, ecovillagers may wish to play an active part in a research project so, where appropriate, VERT will seek a role as an active participant. VERT will also seek to capture the outcomes of research in a systematic way to build a repository of research and make it available to interested parties.

VERT will always seek to ensure that research on the ecovillage is carried out to the highest ethical standards. This will include ensuring that researchers have the appropriate ethical clearance of their own academic institutions or agree to VERT’s guidelines (see below). This will require ensuring confidentiality of the identity of any ecovillagers who collaborate in the research, ensuring that data gathered are stored securely and for a time period adequate to dealing with any issues that may arise, and ensuring that the research findings are disseminated in appropriate ways. Where the ecovillage has gathered its own data, it reserves the right to assert its intellectual property rights over that data.

Advice on research proposals

Cloughjordan Ecovillage has no desire to control research studies of the 
project, nor could we exercise such control even if we wished to do so.
 However, we believe that advice to intending researchers is generally 
useful, so we recommend researchers to submit a research proposal for 
comment. Our membership includes a number of people with experience in 
academic research, across a wide range of disciplines, so we can often 
give valuable feedback.

There are a number of reasons for this:

1) As an educational charity and a learning community, we are
 committed to maximising the educational value of the ecovillage project.
2) The better the research, the more valuable it is likely to be – to us and to others.
3) Residents of the ecovillage willing to participate in research
 constitute a small pool from which to draw a sample – and there are
 many researchers wanting to study the project. Consequently, here is
 a real risk that ‘survey fatigue’ might reduce response rates to
 non-viable levels.
4) Poorly designed or repetitive surveys will exacerbate this risk, with the added hazard that an addressee who takes exception to such
 a survey might advise others against responding. In a small pool of
 potential respondents, the result might be a zero response rate.
5) Adverse reactions to one survey are likely to queer the pitch for
 subsequent researchers, so that a weak piece of work might well
 block a later study of great potential value.

Proposals should be submitted to the Village Education Research &
 Training group (VERT), by email to:

Research Enquiry Form to facilitate researchers sending in their relevant information.

It will
 often be useful to submit a brief outline initially, to be followed by 
an informal discussion with one or more members of VERT, before drafting
 a formal proposal.
 In the case of supervised research, it would be helpful for us to have the name and contact details of the supervisor, and we strongly advise that the supervisor is given a copy of our Terms and Conditions.

Role of VERT

VERT does not act as gate-keeper.
 Our role is confined to circulating an e-mail or letter from a
 prospective researcher to ecovillage members. We do not normally endorse or recommend any particular research; an exception to this might occur when the research undertaken fulfils a key research objective of the ecovillage and when the researcher has agreed in advance to collaborate actively with the VERT research task group to realise the objective. In order to avoid overload, such circulars will not usually be issued more often than 
monthly. If there are a number of research projects proceeding 
simultaneously, one such circular might cover several projects.

Sample recruitment and survey methodology

There is no substitute for spending time in the ecovillage and getting
 to know residents. Approaches to people who have already met you are far 
more likely to get a positive response than an e-mail or letter ‘out of 
the blue’. It is even better to get involved in some voluntary work while you are
 here. As well as helping you get to know people better, it helps to 
compensate them for the time taken up by your research interviews.
 It follows that face-to-face interviews are greatly preferable to
 questionnaires and the like. Recordings of interviews are useful, 
provided the interviewee gives consent, as they reduce the risk of 
misunderstandings, provided that the recording is erased once
 transcription is complete and is for the sole use of the researcher and
 their supervisor.
 Researchers must understand that VERT cannot guarantee a viable level
 of response.

General ethical principles for research in the ecovillage

Ethical approval is required for all research carried out in the ecovillage. This condition can be met either by furnishing VERT with evidence that such approval has been granted for a specific research project by a recognised educational or research institution, or by application to VERT for such approval.

For ethical approval, all research must adhere to the following principles (this includes research where there is no face-to-face interaction between researcher and participants, for example, postal questionnaires, telephone interviews, and internet surveys):

  1. All researchers are obliged to protect their participants from possible harm, to preserve their dignity and rights, and to safeguard their anonymity and confidentiality.
  2. No research on a person may be carried out without the informed, free, express, specific and documented consent of the person.
  3. There should be no coercion in the recruitment of participants.
  4. Participants must be given the right to withdraw from any given research, at any time without penalty and without providing reason even when they have previously agreed to participate. Participants can also require that their data be withdrawn from the study. To fulfill this requirement, researchers are required to furnish their full contact details to each participant; when the research is being undertaken as part of a supervised research project, contact details of the researcher’s supervisor must also be provided.
  5. Participants must be assured that all information they give will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and that their anonymity will be respected at all times unless otherwise agreed with them. Researchers are reminded that the ecovillage is a small community and details given of members’ homes or views can easily identify them; therefore additional care is required to ensure anonymity. Where relevant, participants should be informed where information about them will be stored, who will have access to it, and what use will be made of it. Express permission must be obtained for any non-confidential use of participant information.
  6. Recruitment of participants for a given study should be done in such a way as to ensure that their health and well-being are not adversely affected. There is a duty of care on researchers to ameliorate any adverse effects of their research on participants.
  7. As a general rule, researchers should debrief participants at the end of the research either verbally or in writing.
  8. Special safeguards need to be in place for research with vulnerable populations such as young people under the age of 18. This must include signed informed consent by the young person’s parent or guardian.